How Not to Buy Stuff

“Confucius says: Wise man will not pay 30 kuai for bookmark with picture of Confucius on it!”

Seemingly simple purchases can be difficult in China, but there are certain things you can do to help yourself through this often baffling ordeal. It helps if you can pick up a little bit of the language. For example, “méiyǒu” (may-yo) is Chinese for “Don’t have”. If you point to a burger on the KFC menu and shout “No mayo!” then all you’re doing is telling the cashier that you don’t want to have the burger you seem to frantically want. That’s why she’s looking at you like you’re an utter tit.

It took me awhile to get used to the open-plan shopping malls, some of which have a ridiculously complex system that goes like this:
You show someone the product you want to buy.
They write you out a receipt.
You try to pay them.
They laugh at you.
You try to pay them again.
They somehow manage to communicate that you need to go to the cashier, who is conveniently located on a completely different level of the mall.
Somehow, you find this cashier and pay them.
They write you out another receipt.
You return to the original shop assistant who staples both receipts together.
You leave with the stuff you just bought, vowing never to return.

China also seems keen on unnecessary packaging. McDonalds will put your takeaway drink in a plastic bag, separate from the rest of your food. Subway will pack your foot-long sandwich as two six-inches. Locating your pizza can be a little like that movie Inception, a box within a box within a bag. Once, a Chinese colleague offered me a dried prune (I couldn’t think of a way to politely refuse) and I was shocked to reach into the packet to find that every single prune was wrapped in its own individual packet.

When it comes to goods, though, the most important rule I follow is that just because they sell it doesn’t mean you have to buy it! Did anyone else watch Star Trek: The Next Generation? Remember those weird salesmen creatures, the Ferenghi? I’m pretty sure the guy who created them has been to Wangfujing.

Tian-ber-land is NOT the same as Timberland, and there is a noticeable difference between New Balance, established Boston 1909, and New Bunren, established China circa whenever some dude just ripped you off.